Jerome Bettis Says Goodbye to His ‘Bus Driver’

Jerome Bettis and Tim Lester

Doug Pensinger/Staff Jerome Bettis #36 of the Pittsburgh Steelers leaps over teammate Tim Lester #34 during a game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh in 1997.

On Tuesday Pittsburgh Steelers fans and the NFL community at-large learned the sad news that former Steelers fullback Tim Lester has passed away at the age of 52.

Within hours, former teammates and other former NFL players took to social media to express their condolences, including former Steelers safety Mike Logan and Hall of Fame running back Jerome ‘The Bus’ Bettis, who posted the following heartfelt message on his Instagram account:

Tim, you were more than my Fullback, you were my brother. You paved the way for me. I can’t express how much I am going to miss you. My condolences go out to Natalie, your beautiful children, and the entire Lester family. May you rest in peace and power.

Bettis went on to tag the post with Lester’s jersey number—No. 34—as well as #thebusdriver, the latter a reference to Lester’s nickname, which he earned blocking for Bettis as a member of both the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tim Lester’s NFL Career

Tim Lester was a tenth-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams in 1992. He played for three seasons with the Rams before he moved on to the Steelers, and in 1996 he was re-united with Bettis, the latter of whom was the first-round draft choice of the Rams in 1993 (No. 10 overall).

The pair spearheaded Pittsburgh’s running game for three years (1996-98), during which time Bettis had some of the strongest seasons of his 13-year Hall of Fame NFL career.

The Importance of ‘The Bus Driver’

In 1996, Bettis was named first-team All-Pro when he gained 1,431 yards on the ground and scored 11 rushing touchdowns, while adding 22 receptions for 122 yards. In 1997 he was selected to the Pro Bowl after he rushed for a career-high 1,665 yards with seven rushing touchdowns, plus 15 receptions for 110 yards. In 1998, he gained yet another 1,185 yards on the ground.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that Bettis said he would be ‘disgruntled’ if the Steelers failed to re-sign Lester when his friend and lead blocker hit free agency in early 1999.

“I’m terrified at the thought of losing Tim Lester,” said Bettis at the time. “He’s the No. 1 run blocker in terms of fullbacks in the league. For us to lose him, we lose a lot of our tenacity on offense in terms of running the football.”

Long story short, the Steelers did not re-sign Lester and he played the last year of his NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys, where he appeared in five games, blocking for Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith.

Tim Lester’s Cause of Death

As for a cause of death, there has been no announcement from Lester’s wife or family. However, the Milton Herald is reporting that he passed as a result of complications from COVID-19.

Lester was a Miami native but a resident of the Atlanta metropolitan area. Our condolences go out to his wife Natalie and his children.

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